Is the Balkanization of public thought inevitable? Can anything be done about it?
“Who built this country?” One black guy asked another black guy this question. Only black people ask it, and they only ask it of other black people. They normally won’t ask it if any white people are around. The shelter population is 75% black; otherwise I’m pretty sure he’d not have asked it.
The expected answer is, black people. This may make sense, it may seem so, if one spends almost all one’s time in an almost all-black context. Then one does not see white people laying bricks, building automobiles or paving roads.
Safe spaces and echo chambers
The term “safe space” first got widespread attention when Melissa Click roughed up a student reporter at the University of Missouri, to bar him from a “safe space.” The term came up many times in the next two years, meaning a place and time where one might bare one’s heart and not be violated. But these also became places where like-minded people share their baseless grievances against “the other,” the enemy outside, and are never called on to be honest.
Related: Open heart
They’re everywhere. Previous posts have mentioned how they occur in talk radio. Social media has made matters worse, since one can un-Friend or block anyone whose bigotry doesn’t match one’s own. Then one’s Friends become one’s own echo chamber.
It remains a puzzle to me how one individual’s ideas come to be adopted by a whole group of people who don’t necessarily have good reason to all think alike. Red states far outnumber blue states, albeit their populations are less; which is how Trump won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote. But how do people across such a vast geographical area all subscribe to the same opinions?
Individuation and de-individuation
One adopts the opinions of those whom one admires, those whose favor or affection one seeks, those one seeks to be like (imitate or emulate), those whose attention one seeks.
I doubt that a border wall was of much concern to most of Donald Trump’s supporters prior to his becoming a Presidential candidate. They became infatuated with him first, for whatever reason,(*) and only after that adopted his agenda.
Thinking for oneself only becomes feasible when one has less intense needs to belong.
Six to eight weeks ago, I became Facebook Friends with a dozen high school classmates, people with whom I’d had no contact for forty years. I was shocked at their consensual reality, and saw real fast that I’d have to change my tune or they’d not be friendly to me. These were Trump fanatics, xenophobes, Islamophobes, who hated Barack Obama and HRC and had no concern at all for the black American condition. Indeed, two of them un-Friended me within days. But it appears my presence has also affected them: they are filtering their own content, too; there are far fewer bigoted posts now than when we first began.
Mitigation: Untying the knot
The whole purpose of asking, “Who built this country?” is to stir up hostility toward white people.
The problem may be less the fact that people think differently, than the hostility toward people who think differently. To exacerbate such hostility was the whole point of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. But Sean Hannity and Kathy Griffin have done so pretty well on their own.
If people can make things worse, people can also make things better.
The current governor of Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan, is immensely popular across the board. One of his slogans: “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
I cannot undo the dynamics by which Balkanization occurs; they seem to be built into the shape of the cosmos. But I might can do something about the hostility — here and now, where I’m present, where I have influence, where my words can reach people.
Related: For us
If we’re ever to agree about anything — such as the direction of public policy, what may be best for the country — we need first of all to be able to agree on the facts — on What Is. For example, “Black people alone built this country” is not What Is. Free Speech Handbook, as the “Bible” for The William Tell Show, sets forth twelve guidelines to clear away the not-facts haters ask us to believe instead of the facts. They clear away hostility. In fact, for the person who follows them all, hate speech becomes all but impossible.
Given the errors human beings are prone to, learning to follow the guidelines takes a lot of work.
Some people are up to it.
Some are not.
I must love them all.
(*)I suspect it was his outspoken rejection of “political correctness,” which had ruled public speech with Orwellian tyranny the previous two years.